There are many legendary rivalries in sport.
Football’s local derbies between clubs in the same or adjacent cities, usually inflame partisan attitudes. Historically, in cricket, the Ashes series between Australia and England have been fiercely fought for over 140 years. Yet, it is a more recent rivalry which inflames passions the most, that between India and Pakistan. This is fueled not just by the sport but by the subcontinent’s geopolitics, which have created an intense rivalry and unique set of tensions.
Since the first Test match in 1952 between the two newly formed countries with a shared history and culture, there have been only another 58, played over 15 series. None were played between 1962 and 1977, during which time wars occurred between them in 1965 and 1971. Attempts at reconciliation did bear fruit, with exchange tours taking place in 2005 and 2006. However, the series in 2007 proved to be the last one, as the 2008 terrorist attacks in Mumbai ushered in a new era of political tensions, with serious repercussions for cricket.
Until 2008, it is hardly a surprise that 60 percent of the Test matches were drawn, given the pressure on the teams. Pakistan won 11 of the 20 Tests which did produce a result. Currently, there appears to be little prospect of any resumption of bilateral cricket between the two countries. It is in the shorter formats, organized by either the International Cricket Council or the Asian Cricket Council, that the battles are fought out.
The first One-Day International between the two countries took place in 1978. After a gap of 17 years in play between the two countries, India toured Pakistan to contest three Tests and three ODIs, along with six other matches. Pakistan won two of the Tests, with one drawn. In the third ODI, India was well placed to win, requiring 23 from the final three overs. What followed was the first in a line of controversies which occurred in ODIs between India and Pakistan.
Pakistan’s fast bowler pitched the first ball of the over short, it flew over the batter’s head into the wicketkeeper’s gloves. A wide was not signaled by the umpire. The next three deliveries all had the same outcome. India’s captain opted to concede the match and the series. Thus India’s second tour to Pakistan since 1954-55 ended improperly.
Between 1982 and 1990, five series were played, three in Pakistan and two in India. In 1978, Pakistan led the three-match ODI series 1-0 but, in the final match, slumped to 11 for three in the face of a stunning display of swing bowling. This was clearly not to the liking of the spectators who began throwing stones at India’s fielders. The match was abandoned.
In 1992, India and Pakistan met for the first time in an ODI World Cup, having avoided each other in the previous four tournaments. India scored 216 for seven. During Pakistan’s unsuccessful reply, verbal jousting broke out between India’s wicketkeeper and a Pakistani batter, who complained to the umpire, who took no action. After another exchange, the Pakistani decided to show his displeasure by performing a few leapfrog impressions, an act unlikely to have improved diplomatic relations between the teams.
Another incident which is now ingrained in cricket folklore occurred in the Sahara “Friendship” Cup in 1997, held in Canada. After heckling one of India’s fielders during Pakistan’s innings, the verbal assailant, armed with a megaphone, turned his attention to a Pakistani boundary fielder during India’s innings. His jibe focused on the fielder’s corpulent build. Folklore has it that the fielder arranged for a bat to be brought to him.
When the abuse restarted, the fielder attacked the heckler. Eyewitnesses reported that only restraining action by spectators and security staff prevented acute damage being inflicted on the heckler, an Indian living in Canada. It took 40 minutes for the captains to calm the spectators. Both men filed charges of assault against one another, later withdrawing them.
There have been 17 bilateral ODI series between the two countries. Six have been played in India and seven in Pakistan. Neutral venues hosted the others, three in Canada between 1996 and 1998, one in the UAE in 2006, in which each team won one match. Overall, it is Pakistan which has emerged winners on 57 percent of occasions, claiming 11 series. The last series was held in 2012-13, after a brief rapprochement in 2011, when the two teams met in a semifinal of the ODI World Cup.
Only 12 T20 Internationals have been played between the two countries. Eight have taken place during T20I World Cups, two being in the 2022 World Cup. They also met twice in 2007’s World Cup, in the group stage and in the final, which India won by five runs. Pakistan’s defeat was received badly at home, with effigies of its players being burnt publicly. A two-match series was played in 2012 in which honors were even. Overall, India has won 75 percent of its T20Is against Pakistan.
In total, India and Pakistan have faced each other 203 times across the three formats, Pakistan edging slightly ahead with 55 percent of wins in matches which produced a result. If normal relations had existed between the two countries, this number of matches would be at least double. Perhaps the restrictions which are in place serve to heighten the anticipation and desire to watch the match, either live or on screen, when the occasions arise.
Anticipation was dampened in Kandy, Sri Lanka, in the group stage of the Asia Cup match last Saturday. India scored 266 all out, but rain prevented a response from Pakistan. Both teams have progressed to the Super 4 stage and will lock horns again on Sept. 10.
It is possible that they may meet in the final a week later. On top of this, they are scheduled to meet in the ICC ODI World Cup in Ahmedabad on Nov. 14. After years of intermittent contest, a frenzy of action is now in prospect.